The International Rescue Committee

Improving agility in responding to humanitarian crises

PROBLEM

The IRC's network of 13,000 staff, 10,000 volunteers and 1,000 partner organizations needs to mobilize at a moment's notice to respond to global crises. But the IRC's IT stack was hurting operational agility. Employees struggled to find information on the IRC's intranet and had difficulty networking with partners on the ground. 

 

SOLUTION

Cloud Content Management from Box now powers the IRC's intranet and gives employees instant access to the information they need when they arrive at a new location. It's easy for IRC staff to collaborate across internal teams and network with external partners. Sensitive information like data on the people IRC serves is secure on Box.

 

OUTCOME

The IRC is more nimble in responding to humanitarian crises because employees can instantly be productive and collaborate on the ground. Sensitive information is protected, reducing the risk of damaging breaches that could hurt the IRC's ability to carry out its mission.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has a luminous legacy: the organization was founded by Albert Einstein in 1933 in order to rescue Jews from occupied France via a safe house in Marseille. All these decades later, the organization's mission is still about helping individuals and families fleeing from crisis and conflict, but that vision has expanded to encompass the entire world. Today, the IRC has 24 offices around the U.S. and 13,000 staff (and 10,000 additional volunteers) in politically-fragile regions around the world. It's vital, courageous work by the only group that works with refugees both internationally and in the U.S.

In 2017, an average of one person was displaced every two seconds — 68.5 million people fleeing their homes because of world conflict. The IRC's focus is on helping those people, whose lives have been shattered by conflict and disaster, not just to survive but to thrive — to gain control of their lives and start again someplace new. To connect a network of staff and volunteers, many of them working in places with very poor Internet and phone connectivity, requires a certain level of operational ability, and that's where Madeleine Fackler comes in.

As CIO of the IRC, Fackler oversees all technology for the organization. In her time at the IRC, she has lobbied to have the organization's tech spending raised from less than 1.5% of the total operating budget to its current upward trajectory of 1.8%. In an industry where organizations are used to operating with a fraction of the IT leadership and spend of a for-profit business, this is a significant shift. Prioritization of technology is what allows the IRC to better connect workers and amplify their effectiveness as they coordinate rescue efforts around the world.

 

"Like many nonprofits, years ago, we really weren't putting our money toward technology. That's changed."

Madeleine Fackler, CIO, The International Rescue Committee

 

The first step: better connectivity

When Fackler came on board at the IRC from her prior post at Johnson & Johnson, it was her first job in the humanitarian space, and she wanted to gain a hands-on understanding of what the organization needed from her. She began to pay location visits to outposts in far-off places, starting with the Somalian border of Ethiopia, where she immersed herself in the conditions of the IRC employees on the ground there. Asking them what would make their lives better and easier on the job, she frequently heard things like "I'd just like to see my family on video chat." 

So one of the first initiatives Fackler undertook was to increase the connectivity to such remote locations. With her Infrastructure Senior Director, Neal Moffitt, on point and a project manager on board, the team worked with about 180 locations worldwide to establish a baseline standard for acceptable connectivity. In that first year, Fackler was able to increase the number of sites with successful baseline connectivity from 33% to over 96%.

 

"I feel like what technology does is it allows people to communicate much more effectively together. That's become a way of life for the IRC."

 Madeleine Fackler, CIO, The International Rescue Committee

 

Connectivity in service of collaboration

Better Internet access was not just good for employee morale. The ability to share files in the cloud depends on reliable Internet connectivity, and this was a crucial priority for the IRC. "With people spread across all these countries, continents and time zones," says Fackler, "the ability to access information is as critical for employees in rural Somalia as it is for those in Northern California."

IRC

In the past, the biggest problem the IT team at the IRC had encountered was how hard it was for employees to sort through information. The old company intranet had poor UI, and it was exceedingly hard to find things. So the IRC used Cloud Content Management from Box to dramatically enhance the IRC intranet, called RescueNet. Now, with Box as the content platform integrated with the intranet platform, Interact, there's a lightning-fast method for feeding information to thousands of employees at a time and giving those employees an easy search mechanism. Fackler continues, "Employees in our world, like anywhere else, never have enough hours in the day to get work done. If they can leverage what someone else has done, they'll do it in a nanosecond. So it's important that we figure out mechanisms for them to share information." 

Box was also used as a key component in OTIS (Opportunity Tracking and Implementation System), the IRC's custom grant-tracking system. Grants are incredibly important to an organization like the IRC — particularly as government funding dwindles — and it's not uncommon for there to be upwards of 700 grant applications in process at any time. Using OTIS, employees can conduct every interaction with a donor and share all grant-related information in one place, so they don't have to constantly get mired in research.

 

"Box is our content management solution. Period. It's our essential platform." 

Madeleine Fackler, CIO, The International Rescue Committee

Collaboration that's always secure

It's not just collaboration among employees that matters to the IRC. The organization engages with nearly 1,000 external partners in the course of completing its missions. "Partners are so important to us," says Fackler. "Whether we're working with HIAS, Save the Children or the Norwegian Refugee Council, being able to share information is absolutely critical."

But what's also true is that in the course of day-to-day business, the IRC traffics in highly sensitive information in terms of intellectual property and data on the people it serves. So protecting content is critical. The security mechanisms inherent to Box mean that both internal and external users can access the content they need without accidentally or intentionally coming across something they're not supposed to see. 

"One of the great things about Box," says Fackler, "is that, given the inherent security that comes with it, it allows us to feel much more comfortable and confident passing information around." 

 

A united world via integrated partners

Since last December, the IRC has added 5TB more of data, partly because of the success of using Box. Now, Fackler is working on connecting Box to Salesforce and Office 365. When she first started at the IRC, she made a conscious decision to focus on working with a handful of the right technology partners. She carefully handpicks best-of-breed platforms that integrate well together, then leads change-management efforts to get the organization's entire community using them.

IRC + Box

A lot of the training, of course, has to happen remotely, so that means many posted articles and videos shared over RescueNet. Fackler also focuses on showing the value of the technologies she chooses to senior leadership. This sometimes means hands-on, one-on-one training for those company leaders to get them past any implementation hesitation and into full technology evangelism. As part of the CCM for Good program at Box, pro-bono volunteers are planning to travel to Jordan to learn about the IRC's work in the field there and coach local leadership teams on optimal deployment practices and change management.

Better, safer access to information and cross-organizational collaboration are the two technology initiatives propelling the IRC forward as it continues to serve the world's enormous population of distressed refugees. "Sadly, this is a growth business," says Fackler. As long as it is, the IRC will continue to help people regain control of their lives and resettle in safer places — enabling that mission by supporting dispersed workers with the best possible tools to get their work done.

 

Box and Box.org are proud to enable the IRC and thousands of other nonprofits working night and day to improve the human experience. Box donates and discounts our services for nonprofits at Box.org.

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